The six months of relative calm that Adam ‘Little Boy’ Giles has bought to the Country Liberal Party’s Northern Territory Government ended in chaos late yesterday afternoon.
At 4.55pm – when most public servants are sitting in what passes for a traffic jam in Darwin and most journalists are either in the pub or headed to one – NT Chief Minister Adam Giles issued this press release that signalled the end of Alison Anderson’s ministerial career in the NT and beyond.
First, some background. Anderson was drafted as a star pick by the NT ALP in 2005, was re-elected unopposed in 2008 and was appointed to several ministries in the Henderson Labor government. In 2009 she left Labor to sit as an independent until joining what many regarded as her true political home, the CLP. She was appointed to several ministries under then-chief minister Terry Mills after the CLP won in 2012.
The rot for this latest chapter of the peripatetic political career of Alison ‘King Brown*’ Anderson started on day one of the Giles government – just six short months ago this Friday – during the ‘meet the new cabinet’ presser following Adam Giles’ bloodless coup that saw him grab government from the hapless Terry Mills, who just six months earlier had seized power for the CLP after eleven years of Labor rule in the NT. You can read some of the lead-up to that day in post from 8 March this year here and here.
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As NT News journalist Paul Toohey wrote in this piece in March this year on the fall and fall of Anderson from her position of power under Terry Mills:
The first question Giles was asked as Chief Minister came from me: “Mr Giles, standing behind you nodding warmly at everything you say is Alison Anderson, who last week called you a spoilt brat and a little boy. What guarantees have you extracted from her that she won’t destablise your government as she’s done to others?”
Giles wisely let that go through to the keeper but Anderson responded, attacking Toohey (wrongly) and me for having the temerity to “try[ing] to interpret what Aboriginal people mean.”
Anderson’s prospects only went downhill from there. Giles appointed her to the very difficult portfolio of Children and Families among a grab-bag of less difficult ministries.
Anderson appeared to struggle with the complexities of the Children and Families brief. During a testy Estimates hearing in June she refused to answer several questions and insisted on reading out – rather than tabling – her written responses to questions on notice. During July and August the rumblings about a widening split between Giles and Anderson continued, centred around the permanent appointment of Acting Chief Executive of her department, Jenni Collard, who had been engaged in March on a contract that expired in October.
Anderson made it clear that she wanted Collard to continue as her Chief Executive. By all accounts Giles thought otherwise and wanted to employ ex-CLP MLA Jodeen Carney to the position.
On the final day of the August sittings of the NT parliament Labor MLA Lynne Walker asked Giles about rumours that Anderson would be dumped.
Lynne Walker: … who else have you told that you are dumping the member for Namatjira, Ms Anderson? Have you had the courage to tell her yourself that is being dumped, or are you, in the words of member for Namatjira, just a little boy?
Adam Giles: Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the question. I can say it is all fiction; it is complete scurrilous rumour, and there is no truth to any of it.
On 30 August Giles issued a remarkable statement to a selected few in the media.
The leaks and rumours surrounding the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive of the Office of Children and Families are disruptive, unhelpful and hurtful to the candidates who deserve the right to confidentiality. As Chief Minister, I have the right to appoint Chief executives of Departments and this is standard practice throughout the states and territories.
The problem for Giles was that he was jammed. In the final week of a federal election campaign the last thing he needed was an angry Anderson fighting her patch. Anderson, who was busy in central Australia supporting CLP candidates on mobile polling runs, appeared to contradict Giles’ right to appoint the Chief Executive of her Department. As she told Melanie Arnost of NT ABC TV on 4 September, Collard was the “best possible candidate,” and Giles’ role was to:
… recommend to me as Minister who the Chief executive is. It is not entirely up to the Chief Minister to appoint the Chief Minister.
By late last week it was clear that Adam Giles would prevail and would appoint Jodeen Carney as the Chief Executive of Anderson’s department. The only remaining questions were when to act and what to do with Alison Anderson.
By late yesterday, with the federal election out of the way Giles acted, dumping Anderson from all of her portfolios and sending her to the backbench. Anderson rated just a few lines i the presser announcing the new Giles ministry.
I thank Alison Anderson for her work in Cabinet and wish her well. Ms Anderson has worked as a Minister for several years across different portfolios and governments.
Anderson has not yet spoken about her demotion. She is close to new Prime Minister Abbott and her name has been mentioned in relation to membership of Abbott’s Indigenous Advisory Council, to be led by Warren Mundine.
In August 2012 Abbott, promoting Anderson as a prospective federal candidate, was effusive about her prospects.
There is the marvellous and charismatic and inspirational Alison Anderson who is quite simply one of the most striking human beings it has even been my pleasure and privilege to meet.
How the dumping of Anderson by Giles will go down with Abbott and the new Liberal government in Canberra remains to be seen. If Anderson joins Abbott’s Indigenous Advisory Council there may be some very testy moments ahead.
NT Labor is of course having a field day with this chaos, nominating the Giles government as “ … the most dysfunctional Government the Territory has ever had – 2 Chief Ministers – 5 Cabinets and multiple departmental changes in barely 12 months.”
* Russell Skelton’s King Brown Country is a “powerful and shaming portrait of a community in crisis. Papunya remains an emblem for the failure of all Australians to come to terms with the continent’s oldest inhabitants.” In 2011 King Brown Country won both the Walkley Award for Best Nonfiction Book and the George Munster Award for Independent Journalism.
At page 13 of King Brown Country Skelton recounts how he first heard of Anderson described as ‘King Brown’: “‘Nothing happens in Papunya without the King Brown’s approval-not even your visit,’ he said. It was the first time I had heard Alison Anderson, the former council clerk at Papunya, referred to in this way. It was a compliment, delivered with a mixture of irreverence and awe. But is was also a caution. The majestic King Brown, a snake native to Central Australia, was said to be sacred to some desert dwellers. … My informant … referred to Papunya as King Brown country in apparent deference to Anderson’s enormous influence.“